AMERICAN SAMOA RETIREMENT FUND SEEKS INJUNCTION

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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, Dec. 30) - The board of the American Samoa Government Employees Retirement Fund [ASGERF] told a Senate committee yesterday that it will not release documents subpoenaed by the legislative group until the High Court rules on their complaint.

The ASGERF petitioned the High Court this week to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction suspending or quashing subpoenas the Senate committee issued to its board members and executive director. The ASGERF is asking the Court to rule on the scope of oversight authority the Senate committee has over affairs of the ASGERF.

ASGERF board chairman Aleki Sene Sr., and later ASGERF's attorney Marie Lafaele, informed the Senate committee about their position of not handing over the documents until a court ruling is made. (Lafaele and attorney Charles Alailima, who is behind the ASGERF's complaint and is currently off island, are with the lawfirm of Alailima and Alailima.)

Attorney Fiti Sunia, who was also present at the hearing, represents the personal interests of each board member. Both he and Lafaele flanked board members when they appeared individually before the committee.

Besides Sene, other board members at the hearing were Lt. Gov. Ipulasi Aitofele Sunia and Magalei Logovi'i and Retirement Office executive director, Filisouaiga Ta'afua. Board members not present were Morris Scanlan and Brandt Judy, who resides off-island.

Each board member and Ta'afua were called to the witness table one at a time. Sene, Ipulasi and Ta'afua all replied "no" when asked by Senate special legal counsel Roy J.D. Hall if they have the documents outlined in their individual subpoenas. All three were also sworn under oath to provide truthful testimony.

Magalei, on the other hand, wasn't sworn in after objections from Sunia and Lafaele because Magalei didn't see his subpoena until yesterday morning. Both attorneys said that under the law, a subpoena should be served seven working days prior to the person making his appearance.

Lafaele told the committee that board member Scanlan was also not properly served with the subpoena in accordance with the law and therefore he was not in chamber.

Among items of information requested under the subpoenas issued to the board members are copies of checks for payroll between 2002 and 2006; check registers; checks issues to board members and other travel/related activities; passport and travel itineraries; lists of conferences and meetings and list of employees who attended such meetings; airline tickets; employees salaries and expenditures for 2002-2006 and Ta'afua's employment applications and other information.

Sene said it's not that the board doesn't want to cooperate with the Senate, however, he said there are certain issues that need to be interpreted by the court in order for the board to fully respond to the subpoenas.

He also reminded the committee that the final audit for 2006 is not yet completed and "raw financial" data could be misinterpreted.

Both Ipulasi and Ta'afua offered similar statements when questioned by Hall. Ipulasi added that he is willing to turn over copies of his passports and other documents such as copies of canceled checks, but he was concerned that these documents may be leaked to the newspaper, which printed copies of the checks given to them for the London trip.

The two local banks (Bank of Hawai'i and ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank), which were also issued subpoenas to provide financial records regarding the ASGERF, submitted to the Senate some documents yesterday, but bank reps have requested more time to compile the rest of the documents.

The banks provided accounts, signature cards and bank statements, but bank officials requested more time in order to put together copies of all checks and electronic transactions.

Brian Glass was there for Bank of Hawaii while Steve Watson was there for Amerika Samoa Bank. They were both accompanied by their legal counsel Henry Kappel.

Watson said there are a lot of canceled checks and producing copies as well records of the electronic transactions costs about $70,000. Hall said he will address this later with the bank and he will also work with the two financial institutions to obtain the rest of the subpoenaed documents.

The Senate committee also questioned ASGERF about the cost of the two attorneys they've retained.

Sunia said there are already criticisms about him getting a retainer fee of $10,000, and now his office is in the process of returning the retainer fee. He said he now represents the board members for free.

Lafaele invoked the attorney-client privilege, but she quickly pointed out that she was not privy to the negotiations between the board and her lawfirm regarding legal fees as it was Alailima who handled it.

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